For Immediate Release:
Thursday, November 15, 2018

'Tis the Season! Department of Consumer Affairs Issues Holiday Shopping Tips

NEW YORK, NY – Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lorelei Salas today issued the following Holiday Shopping Tips to protect consumers’ identity and money during the holiday season. These tips help educate consumers about their rights – including gift card protections, tips for budgeting, and ways they can protect themselves from scams.

“The busy holiday shopping season is upon us but, unfortunately, this also means scammers are ready to prey on unsuspecting shoppers,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “With Americans spending nearly $1,000 during the holidays, it is important that they know how to protect their hard-earned money. We encourage everyone to use these tips as a guide when shopping to ensure the holiday season is a time of joy and not frustration.”

Shopping Tips for the Holiday Season

  • Know your consumer rights.
    • Stores can set their own refund policy but they must post a sign with all conditions or limitations at each register, point of sale, or at each entrance where customers can easily read it. If no refund policy is posted, you can return any unused item within 30 days, and the business must give you the choice of cash or credit. Visit to get all of DCA’s tips, including industries that have certain requirements like furniture stores, electronics, used cars, and supermarkets.
    • In New York City, businesses must give you a receipt for purchases over $20 automatically and upon request for purchases between $5 and $20.
    • Stores must post prices either on the item or on a sign where the item is displayed. It is illegal to charge more than that posted price.
    • Download 10 Things Every Consumer Should Know from or call 311 to request a copy.
  • Create a budget and make a list. Don’t let holiday spending put you in debt. Decide what you want to buy and how much you want to spend in advance, start shopping early and watch your bank balance. You’ll be less likely to overspend if you pay in cash or with a prepaid debit card—but be wary of hidden fees with prepaid cards. If you’re struggling with debt and need help budgeting, make an appointment for free, financial counseling at the City’s Financial Empowerment Centers by booking online, calling 311, or texting TalkMoney to 42033 (message and data rates may apply; check with your service provider).
  • Be a smart shopper.
    • Use websites, smartphone apps (see below for our tip about fake apps before you download) and social media to research products, compare prices, and find sales and discounts before you start shopping. Avoid entering your personal information to get a coupon—some scammers use the promise of discounts to steal your information.
    • Save your receipts to make returns easier and check with the store for extended return policies and/or free return shipping, and any restocking fees.
    • Keep your eye on your credit card when making a purchase. Some employees have used handheld machines illegally to swipe card information and use it later to hack into accounts.
    • Think twice before you buy the “female version” of a product. Gender pricing is prevalent and means you could pay more for an item marketed towards females than items marketed towards males. Many people take advantage of holiday deals to make non-gift purchases. Whether you’re shopping for a new TV, a used car, or to remodel your kitchen, get DCA’s tips first at
  • Gift cards are one of the most popular gifts…know the rules. The value of a gift card is valid for at least five years from when the card was purchased or money was last loaded onto it. In New York, all fees must be listed and no inactivity or service fees can be charged if the card has been used within the past 25 months. If you’re buying an “experience” card (like a spa treatment, flight or hotel stay), buy one with a specific dollar value so you can benefit from these consumer protections. Visit for the latest information on gift card rules and visit to see if you have unclaimed funds because unused gift card values issued by New York corporations are required to be turned over to the Comptroller’s office as abandoned property after five years of dormancy.
  • Be on alert for holiday scams. It’s a busy time of year and unfortunately scammers try to take advantage of people and their generosity. Shop at stores you know, research charities before you donate, protect your personal information and be wary of suspicious calls and emails, especially if they offer free things or deals that are too good to be true. Some common scams this year are:
    • Fake apps: A lot of fake retail and product apps pop up around the holiday season, some even mimic real shopping apps. Fake apps can do anything from giving you annoying pop-up ads to installing malware or stealing your personal and credit card information. Before you download an app, read the reviews and check the publisher to make sure they are legitimate. If you are shopping at a specific store, go to that store’s website to find its official app.
    • Gift Card Scams: Be careful of websites or social media sites that offer free or discounted gift cards. These sites often ask for your personal information or ask you to pay for a gift card that has no balance. Also, be suspicious of anyone who asks you to pay a bill with a gift card – government agencies (e.g., IRS, FBI, NYPD, etc.) and public utility companies (e.g., Con Edison) will never ask for payment using gift cards.
    • Delivery Scams: Watch out for texts or emails that say you will be receiving a package but then ask you to enter personal information. If you have questions about a delivery, don’t click the email but contact the carrier directly. Some thieves will even come to your door with a package for you sign for but then ask you to swipe your credit card for a “delivery charge.” Package theft is also common during the holiday season so be sure to have your packages delivered to a place where they will be safe.
    • Temporary Holiday Jobs Scams: If you’re looking for a temporary job during the holiday season for some extra money, be careful of jobs that are advertised online and that ask for personal information or payment in order to apply. Under the Fair Workweek Law, retail employers must give workers predictable schedules. Learn more about workers’ rights at
    • Social Media Gift Exchange: Be wary of social media posts inviting you to join a “Secret Gift Exchange,” promising that you will receive as many as 36 gifts in exchange for sending a $10 gift to a stranger. This is an illegal pyramid scheme, and it can be a way for scammers to obtain your personal contact information.
    • Fake Holiday E-Cards: Unfortunately, not all e-cards are sending holiday wishes but instead they may install malware to steal your personal information. Be wary of a e-card notification that is not from a recognized name but instead a “friend” or “secret admirer” and avoid links or attachments that end with “.exe,” which could download a virus.
  • Protect yourself when shopping online. Only shop on secure websites—use familiar websites or research and read reviews of new ones, and check that the website starts with https (not just http) or has a padlock icon. Avoid typing your personal information when using unsecured Wi-Fi. Also, don’t click on shopping links included in unsolicited emails or social media sites—type the address directly into your browser. Visit for more information on how to be safe, secure, and responsible online.
  • Shop local and don’t buy counterfeit or “pirated” goods. Support New York City’s local economy by shopping at local retail stores and avoid buying counterfeit and pirated goods, which are illegal and jeopardize local jobs. Also be suspicious if a deal seems too good to be true—it might be a knockoff.
  • Get a delivery date. Secure a delivery date in writing before you leave a store. If retailers don’t specify a “ship by” date for your online purchase, they must ship within 30 days.
  • Check for recalls. To check if a gift or toy has been recalled, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission at and click on the recall section.
  • File a complaint if you’ve had a problem the business won’t resolve. File a complaint with DCA at or by contacting 311. DCA mediators will help. You can file your complaint in multiple languages.

Additional shopping guides are available online at or by calling 311.

The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCA licenses more than 81,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCA protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCA empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCA also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCA and its work, call 311 or visit DCA at or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Media Contacts:
Gloria Chin / Jade Acosta
Department of Consumer Affairs
(212) 436-0042

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